Protect Land With PLI; Don’t Inflame Passions With Monument Designation

lavarr policy insightsI’ve hiked many of the canyons of Cedar Mesa in the Bears Ears area. It is extraordinarily beautiful, and I concur this stunning land has a spiritual quality to it. I want to see this region protected forever.

But it would be a terrible mistake for the Obama administration to swoop in and designate Bears Ears as a national monument. It would be counter-productive, would forever set back federal-state relations and exacerbate acute land-use tensions. As Gov. Gary Herbert has said, such a designation would “inflame passion, spur divisiveness, and ensure perpetual opposition.”

Even more important, the designation of a national monument would crush any hope of getting the Public Lands Initiative (PLI) through Congress. Environmentalists will get a whole lot more land protected in a whole lot more counties, along with many other environmental safeguards, via PLI than through a mere monument designation. 

I believe the Obama administration understands this and is going to move rather carefully in designating a national monument. That’s good.

Still, this fight is really heating up with indignant rhetoric on both sides, along with dueling survey research. All the more reason for the Obama administration to exercise caution and restraint and not “inflame passion, spur divisiveness, and ensure perpetual opposition”;”inflame passion, spur divisiveness, and ensure perpetual opposition”;exacerbate the tension and anger between the federal government and environmentalists on one side, and state and local governments and land users on the other.

I am well aware that many environmental groups have significant concerns with Bishop’s PLI, and are not ready to sign off on it. But let’s keep working. The extremist “all or nothing” crowds on either side will never be happy. But reasonable, sensible conservationists, along with practical, logical local and state leaders, and land users, can find common ground if they keep talking and do the hard work.

As for the polling, there’s no question that Utahns, myself included, want to protect this area. But I guarantee, having commissioned numerous polls on this issue, which the vast majority of Utahns DO NOT want Obama to unilaterally designate a national monument. Don’t be fooled by garbage polling that says otherwise.

It is unfortunate that leaders from outdoor industry businesses like Black Diamond, Patagonia, KUHL, and Petzl are demanding the monument designation and are denouncing Utah’s Legislature for passing an anti-monument resolution. If they really care about protecting land — a lot more land — they should work with Bishop and improve PLI, so it works for them.

If the monument is designated, PLI will be abandoned, and it may be decades before any major Utah leader will ever again attempt to work with the federal government and environmental groups to protect land, preserve endangered species, or implement federal environmental regulations.

It will be open warfare on many fronts, with litigation as the major weapon. The groups attempting to take over most federal land will be emboldened. The Ammon Bundy’s of the world will encourage more militancy. The mainstream middle will get lost in the furor as the extremes engage in battle.

Let’s find common ground with PLI, not throw gasoline on the fire with a monument designation.